Ten days ago, I got sick. No, this is not a post from the archives—I got sick, AGAIN. This time, the culprit was the most glamorous viral infection of all: the dreaded “stomach bug”. I didn’t even attempt to go see a doctor. The symptoms were obvious and I had been in close contact with patient zero, Mark, who had had a bout of it earlier in the week.
Normally, I just deal with whatever symptoms and it’s business as usual even if I’m slower. This time, exhausted from a few hectic months of stress and lack of sleep, my body surrendered. It sounds oh-so-dramatic but it just translated into going to bed and waking up sporadically for a few hours before falling back asleep. I didn’t eat, didn’t take drugs, didn’t attempt to do anything. I just let it pass. In a way, it was the best thing to do and giving in was strangely comforting. The timing wasn’t bad either, I had just finished a big project and work had slowed down. And what if something came up? I didn’t care! I had an excuse! I was sick, legitimately sick!
Eventually, the symptoms stopped and I came out of it with a slightly flatter stomach (diet secret discovered—just don’t eat!). Problem was, I had no appetite. I knew I had to eat, I was hungry, but I had zero cravings.
Meals are a recurring problem here, a typical “but” issue. I like to eat BUT I want it to be a relaxing moment, so I can’t do fast food or half-eaten meals trying to parent Mark. I like to cook BUT I don’t have the time to make Mark’s lunch box and his dinner plus my own food and time it right for us to have a family meal. In theory the three of us could eat the same thing BUT really we don’t, as Feng eats a lot of meat, Mark tends to favour kid-friendly food like pasta and chicken nuggets and I love grains and veggies.
Typically, we use the same basic ingredients (veggies, carbs, etc.) but Feng and I cook them our way. For instance, I will use the sweet potatoes we bake with a pile of veggies and some cheese and Feng will use them in a stew with pork ribs.
For the past few months, I’ve been eating a variant of the same main course: savoury oatmeal and a soup. I prepare oatmeal (or some other quick grain) from scratch and mix it with vegetables and some protein, like egg or tofu. Seriously, it’s good. And above all, it’s easy, healthy and cheap. I make it at the same time as Mark’s lunch box, dump it in a bowl and reheat it later when I’m finally ready to eat.
But after the stomach bug, I didn’t feel like eating oatmeal anymore. It just… didn’t feel right.
In a pinch, I made ramen noodles. But I can’t exactly eat ramen every day.
I stood there in a kitchen and started crying.
“We can… follow a recipe,” Feng suggested, slightly taken aback by my sudden existential crisis.
“Yeah, sure, one night, for fun, we can cook something fancy. But I don’t have the time nor the will to do that every day!” I claimed.
“… Er… get take out? That’s what people do in North America, you know,” he added, pointing to the pile of junk mail on the table, mostly fast food coupons and menus.
“Same problem. I can’t get take out every day. The only reason why I made oatmeal every freaking day for the past few months is because I can make it in my sleep. Yeah, it’s good too, but mostly it’s relatively healthy and easy. I need easy, healthy and filling recipes.”
Feng sighed. He cares about food too, but not as much as me. If he’s hungry, he eats. As simple as that.
I resorted to Google. I didn’t need new specific recipes, I needed general ideas. Food is carbs, veggies, proteins. What could I make with these jigsaw pieces? I’m not a bad cook, I can adapt.
Suddenly, a light went on in my head. What does half of the world eat? Rice and beans. And I love rice and beans, it’s versatile enough to be topped or mixed with a bunch of different veggies and spices to create various flavours.
That’s also when I realized Feng had bought me a slow cooker for Christmas, and me, the ungrateful wife, had yet to try it.
I went to the supermarket, bought groceries, and I stopped by Bulk Burn next door to buy spices.
If I could make a meal out of the slow cooker… oh, the possibilities!
I washed, chopped, sliced and dumped everything in the big bowl. I put the lid on and left it to cook. I wanted to believe in the magic of slow cooking.
Magic was delivered a few hours later. It had worked! My raw ingredients had mixed beautifully and I had two portions of a very nice Spanish rice meal.
So now, I’m experimenting with the slow cooker. It takes a bit of fine tuning, for example, one time, my rice was mushy because I added too much water. But then, it can also produce beautiful meals, like this gallo pinto inspired dish.
Care for the recipe?
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped white onion
3/4 cup bell pepper
2 small green chili
2 minced cloves of garlic
1 cup black beans (from a can)
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup basmati rice
1 tablespoon coriander
1 tablespoon cumin
a pinch of salt
Cook for about 4 hours on low.
Towards the end, I cooked an egg directly on the rice until the white was set.
Tips: Jasmin rice was too mushy and sticky. So far, I found parboiled long-grain rice and Basmati rice work best. Don’t add too much water! Use the broth and the bean juice, it should be enough.
Do you have any cool slow cooker recipe to share? What’s your quick-and-easy meal? Do you mind eating the same thing every day or do you need variety?